Topps in the 1990’s Decade Wrap-up

15 12 2013

I’m through my posts about the Topps sets from the 1990’s – hard to believe I’m through 2 decades!  That’s two-thirds of the way through this project!  Well, considering I still haven’t completed all the sets, it’s not really two-thirds of the way.  But it’s two-thirds of the way through my introductory posts on the sets, at least.  It only took 3 years to get this far.

Like I did for the 1980’s, I’m going to re-cap the decade in Topps.  Here’s info I usually put in the post for each year, only I’ve accumulated it for the whole decade.

1990 Topps Griffey, pack

1991 Topps Griffey Pack

1992 Topps Griffey Pack

1993 Topps pack Griffey

1995 Topps Griffey pack

95 Traded Griffey pack

1996 Topps Griffey packs

Griffey 97 Topps pack

1998 Topps pack and Griffey

1999 Topps packs Griffey

  • Subsets by year: Subsets were a lot less consistent and a lot more confusing in this decade compared to the 1980’s.  As was the set size, which probably is related.  There were only Record Breaker / Season Highlights cards for about half the decade, and they stopped doing all-star cards after 1995.  The All-Star Rookie cup was included in all sets.
    • All years: Draft Picks (’90-’99, also ’94-’95 Traded) – these were single player through 1996, 2-player from ’97-’99
    • 8 years: Prospects (’92-’99, also ’94-’95 Traded) – multi-player
    • 6 years: All Stars (’90-’95, also ’95 Traded)
    • 5 years: Future Stars (’90-’91, ’94-’96, also ’94-’95 Traded)
    • 4 years: Managers (’90-’93)
    • 3 years: Record Breakers (’90-’92)
    • 3 years: Season Highlights (’97-’99)
    • 2 years: Expansion (’97-’98)
    • 2 years: World Series Highlights (’98-’99)
    • 2 years: Coming Attractions (’93-’94) – single player in ’93, 2-player in ’94
    • 1 year: Turn Back the Clock (’90)
    • 1 year: Tribute (’90 – Ryan)
    • 1 year: Measures of Greatness (’94)
    • 1 year: Anatomy of a Trade (’94TT)
    • 1 year: On Deck (’95, also ’95 Traded)
    • 1 year: Star Track (’95, also ’95 Traded)
    • 1 year: At The Break (’95 Traded)
    • 1 year: Rookie of the Year Candidates (’95 Traded)
    • 1 year: Star Power (’96)
    • 1 year: AAA All-Stars (’96)
    • 1 year: Now Appearing (’96)
    • 1 year: Interleague (’98)
    • 1 year: League Leaders (’99)
    • 1 year: Strike-Out Kings (’99)
    • 1 year: All-Topps Team (’99)
    • Various stand-alone tribute cards were also included throughout – Bart Giamatti (’90), Russian Angels (’93), Hank Aaron (’94), Nolan Ryan (’94), Babe Ruth (’95), Mickey Mantle (’96), Cal Ripken (’96), Jackie Robinson (’97), Roberto Clemente (’98), Nolan Ryan (’99), HR Parade (’99 – McGwire, Sosa)
    • All-Star Rookie Cups were included for the respective players for all sets in the decade
    • Team USA playes were included in the 1991, 1992 and 1993 Topps Traded sets
  • Set Design: See pictures above.  In 1998 and 1999 Topps went with gold borders, the first time away from a full white border for the first time since 1987.  1993 also deviated from a kind of every-10-years tradition where Topps had a photo or logo in a logo in the bottom corner of the card.  Most notably, Topps went to white cardstock in 1992, glossy cards in 1993 and UV-coated cards in 1994.
  • Packs: Maybe the most notable change was that in 1994 the packs weren’t “wax” anymore – they were the plastic “tamper-proof” type packs that we’re used to today.  See the chart below for the cost of wax and hobby packs and cello packs.  Not only did packs go up from 45¢ to $1.29, but the number of cards went down from 15 to 11.  Packs were a quarter for 15 cards in 1980 – at the start of my “Lifetime Topps journey”.

Wax packs prices 1990s

  • Rookies: The Topps flagship set definitely suffered from having what are considered “true rookie cards” due to a couple of things.  The first is the Bowman effect of the 1990’s – Bowman sets included prospects often multiple years before Topps could put the same players in their sets.  The other factor was that from 1996-1998, Topps didn’t do a Traded set, which sometimes could catch up for the “Bowman effect”.  1990 still had a number of notable rookie cards – future MVP’s Frank Thomas, Sammy Sosa, Juan Gonzalez, Larry Walker and Juan Gonzalez.  After that, though Chipper Jones (’91), Manny Ramirez (’92), Derek Jeter (’93) and Jim Edmonds (’93) are really the only really notable rookie cards in the standard Topps set.  Topps Traded sets did have some more rookies – Jeff Bagwell (’91), Ivan Rodriguez (’91), Jason Giambi (’91 – USA), Jason Varitek (’92 – USA), Nomar Garciaparra (’92 – USA), Todd Helton (’93 – USA), Paul Konerko (’94), Carlos Beltran (’95), Hideo Nomo (’95) and then 1999 had a bunch – Josh Hamilton, Adam Dunn, C.C. Sabathia, Alfonso Soriano and Carl Crawford.
  • Players who didn’t get rookie cards in Topps included Alber Belle, Edgar Martinez and Curt Schilling (first Topps card in ’90), Jim Thome, Mike Mussina and Kenny Lofton (’92), Mike Piazza (’93 Traded), Andruw Jones and Vlad Guerrero (same card in ’96), Alex Rodriguez (’98 – due to not signing a contract with Topps until then), Roy Halladay, David Ortiz and Adrian Beltre (’98), and Miguel Tejada (’99).
  • Hall of Fame: See the Hall of Fame numbers by year below. The tribute cards throughout added a Hall of Famer or so each year. For context, the decade of the 80’s started with 38 in 1980 and peaked at 41 in 1983.  The lack of love for steroid suspects certainly keeps these numbers down for now.  Also, Topps stopped having manager cards after 1993, which impacts the numbers as well.

HOFers 1990s

  • Variations: The first year of the decade contained the most notable variant.  A small number of cards were mistakenly printed in 1990 without black ink on the front, leading them to have no name on the front (NNOF variations).  The Frank Thomas RC is one of these cards, and it has become the most famous and most valuable error card in modern sports card history.  There are a lot of minor printing differences with the backs of 1991 Topps that seem to have a bit of a cult following, plus there are some photo corrections in that set.  The Babe Ruth tribute card in 1995 has a couple of variations regarding the logo.  In 1995 Traded, there was an error that was never fixed where Carlos Beltran and Juan LeBron got their photos switched – leading to a rookie card for Beltran that doesn’t even depict him.  Aside from that, there are a couple of missing card numbers in later years, but not really any more variations worth noting.
  • Last Active Player: This category isn’t really relevant any more – but I will say that the 1995 Babe Ruth Tribute card has the earliest player in the decade.

Factory Sets

1996 topps factory retail

Topps continued issuing factory sets in each year throughout the 1990’s – a practice started in 1982.  There were often hobby and retail versions throughout the decade, with different inserts added as a bonus.  There was a Topps Gold factory set in 1992 that contained an autograph card of Brien Taylor as card #793.  Also, in 1993 and 1998, Topps issued expansion factory sets that had special logos for the Marlins, Rockies, Diamondbacks and Devil Rays.

Promo Cards

Topps issued pre-production cards to preview the upcoming set from 1991 to 1999, ranging from 6 to 9 cards.

Update Sets

Topps released a 132-card Topps Traded sets in factory set form for the first 5 years of the decade, just as it had done throughout the 1980’s.  In 1994, the set featured insert cards using Topps Finest technology.  Then, in 1995, Topps issued the Traded set in pack form only.  This set was 165 cards.  From 1996 through 1998, Topps stopped issuing update sets of any kind, before going back to a factory set of 121 cards.  That set had an autograph inserted into it.

Parallel Sets

For the first 2 years of the decade, Topps issued a Tiffany variation in factory set form – stopping in 1991 after 8 years.  In 1992, Topps issued the first modern parallel set – Topps Gold, which came 1 per box.  There was a bit of a controversy with a redemption game that caused them to also create a Topps Gold Winners paralle set that year.  Topps Gold was made in 1993 and 1994 at a rate of 1 per pack, and then a spectralite partial parallel called Cyberstats was issued in 1995 at the same rate – this featured a shaded background and statistical projections as if the 1994 season was actually completed.  For two years, there were no parallels, and then the Minted in Cooperstown parallel was printed in 1998 – featuring cards with a Hall of Fame stamp.  1999 had an MVP promotion as a partial parallel.

Insert sets

1993 Topps Black Gold

There are too many to go over all of them.  Topps started with Topps Black Gold in 1993 – there first insert set that could be found in any type of packaging.  Below are some insert themes that Topps created in multiple years.

    • 6 years:  Finest – 22 cards (’94 Traded, ’95-’99) including 4 different Mystery Finest inserts
    • 4 years:  Reprints – 19 to 27 cards (’96-’99) – Mantle, Mays, Clemente, Ryan
    • 2 years: Topps Black Gold – 44 cards (’93-’94)
    • 2 years: Power Boosters – 10 to 25 cards (’95 Traded & ’96)

Autographs & Memorabilia

Topps inserted Brien Taylor auto’s into all 12,000 of the 1992 Topps Gold Factory Sets, and then 1997 was the first year Topps ever inserted autographs directly into their packs.   In Series 1, 19 of the 27 Willie Mays reprints were autographed by Mays and inserted into packs.  There was a Derek Jeter Rookie of the Year autograph card inserted into series 2.

In 1999, Topps inserted Nolan Ryan autographs in similar fashion.  They also included a 16-card insert set of current stars for the first time.

There weren’t any relic cards in the 1990’s – though you could get some Roberto Clemente memorabilia as part of the promotion associated with him in 1998.

1991 Topps Instant Win

Notable Promotions

  • Wax packs in 1990, 1991 and 1992 contained a game card with some type of theme and a prize – for example, 1992 had a Topps “Match-the-Stats” game card where you could send in for Topps Gold winner cards.
  • In conjunction with the 40th Anniversary promotion in 1991, Topps also inserted one of every single card from the past 40 years (and then some) into packs.  The odds were very high, listed at 1:1,000.
  • In 1995, Topps “Own the Game” cards which were inserted 1:120 packs of series 1.  Usually, the winning card was a team set of CyberStats cards.  The grand prize was a $40,000 MLB passport – which i assume was an all-expense baseball game travel deal.
  • There were promotions associated with both the Mantle and Clemente tribute years (’96 and ’98) where you could win memorabilia and other prizes.
  • The 1999 set included the MVP promotion where winner cards could be traded in for a 25-card send-in set.

Other notable releases associated with the Topps flagship set

#1 – In 1990, Topps again created a “Gallery of Champions” set of 12 metal ¼-size replicas of the base cards.  There were still three variations – Aluminum, Bronze and Silver (#’d to 1,000), while there was a pewter variant given to dealers as well of one card (Ryan in 1990, Henderson in 1991).

#2 – In 1990, Topps issued a “Double Headers” set for the second straight year, available in packs that came 36 packs per box.  These sets were 2-sided miniature cards (1-5/8 x 2-1/4) with a reproduction of the 1990 card on one side and the player’s first Topps card on the other side.  The set was tripled to 72 cards.

90ToppsMylarStickersWinfield#3 – Topps produced 6 experimental Mylar stickers in 1990 of cards from the Traded set; these were early test runs of the refractor technology.  Joe Carter and Dave Winfield are the two most notable names in the set.

1-42#4 – As a favor to then President George Bush, Topps printed and presented him with about 100 cards of him in the 1990 design with a picture of him from his playing days at Yale.  Apparently his grandchildren didn’t understand why he didn’t have a baseball card even though he had played for 2 seasons in college.  Some of these cards made it to the open market, supposedly a very small few even got inserted into packs on accident.  The card is exactly like the design from the base set, and has Bush’s statistics from his 2 years at Yale.  His team is listed as “USA”.  Until looking at this card, I hadn’t realized that Bush had gone to Yale AFTER his stint as a war hero in WWII, though I guess that makes sense with the GI Bill.  Also, it looks like “41″ definitely improved in his 2nd season at Yale.  I can’t wait ’til they reprint these for the 2039 Heritage set!

1991 Topps Ruth F#5 – Topps issued an 11-card promotional set of cards to commemorate the NBC Babe Ruth movie in the design of the 1991 set.  This set is particularly significant as it contains the last card of Pete Rose printed by Topps.  Rose played Ty Cobb in the movie and was featured on one of the cards.  I actually ordered one of these sets the other day.

#6 – In 1993, Topps issued a 21-card jumbo set called “Full Shots” that was included in retail re-packs of either Topps or Bowman packs from 1993.

#7 – R&N China supposedly issued a bunch of “parallel” versions of Topps cards throughout the mid-90′s.  Some of the porcelain cards created were reprints – for example, they did a full run of all 26 of Nolan Ryan’s cards.  They of course did one of the ’52 Mickey Mantle card and quite a few others (I’ve seen a lot of Roberto Clemente cards).  And they did quite a few of current cards in the years released.  I’ve read some things that claim that a full reproduction was done of the 1993 and 1994 sets, but read other things saying that a full parallel being done is very unlikely.  Looking around on eBay seems to support the latter.  But there are certainly quite a few porcelain reproductions from the 1993 & 1994 sets.  There were also some reproductions of cards from 1995, 1996, 1997 and 1998.

#8 – Topps participated in the National Packtime promotion along with the other 4 major card manufacturers (Fleer, Donruss, Upper Deck, Pinnacle).  The promotion was an attempt to increase interest in baseball cards after the strike severely hurt the sport and the hobby.  Each of the companies made 3 cards; the 18-card set was available by sending in 28 packs of any 1995 product.  Topps made cards of Mike Piazza, Raul Mondesi and Deion Sanders.

#9 – As part of the Mantle madness that was the hallmark of the 1996 product, Topps produced a framed sheet of Mantle cards from his career.  There’s all 20 Mantle cards – the 19 Topps or Bowman from each year of his career, plus the “retired” card #7 from the 1996 set – surrounding the image from his 1952 Topps card.  It measures 19.5″ x 25″, and has a gold #7.  This sheet was numbered to 10,000.

Mantle sheet

#10 – In 1996, certain teams were part of the first “Team Topps” set sold at Wal-Mart with “Big Topps” cards.  The Team Topps cards were parallel versions of the players from the team, with the same number and picture as the regular card.  The Big Topps cards featured the superstar from that team.  The teams sold were the Rangers, White Sox, Cubs, Yankees and Orioles.  The Indians and Braves had “AL Champ” and “World Champ” versions, the Dodgers had “Chavez Ravine 35th anniversary” versions, and Seattle had “AL West Champ” versions.

#11 – From 1996 on, Topps issued a “Topps Chrome” product for the first time.  A certain number of the cards from the base set were reproduced using Topps chromium technology – as were many of the insert sets.

#12 – A special Wal-Mart box in 1997 included a jumbo version of the reprint of the 1952 Willie Mays Topps card.  The packaging had 10 series 1 packs as well.  For series 2, there was a box of 15 retail packs with jumbo versions of 3 different players from the set – Ken Griffey Jr., Cal Ripken or Chipper Jones.

#13 – Topps issued the first “Opening Day” set in 1998 and did so in 1999 as well.  This 165 card set was retail only, and features the same photos from the base set.

1999 Topps Action Flats McGwire#14 – In 1999, Topps tried to enter the figurine market with little figures called Action Flats.  Included in the packaging for each of the 12 players is a card in the design of the Topps base set with an “Action Flat” foil stamp.  The figurine mirrors the picture on the card – and there was a home and away version of each player.  The picture on the card is not the same picture as the Topps base set.

So that’s my 1990’s decade in review for Topps.  It’s really just a re-cap of the decade – I’ll do a few more posts over the next few days relating to this.  I may not start posting on the 2000’s for a little while, but we’ll have to see.



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